Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Style and Substance

I like this post. Being Anglican is not - in my and in this poster's view - about maintaining a preference or familiar custom, filling a niche in the religious marketplace, or fermenting a good fit between faith and fashion. It is about what is true and what is not, about what the Bible says and what it does not say, about what is the correct course of Christian tradition and what is not. It is about style and substance in the manner of being Christian.

To be Anglican is to be faithful to Jesus Christ. Or it is nothing.


James said...

I was impressed with the thoughts in that post as well.

One of the most indelible markers of "Anglicanism" came for me at a meeting with a diocesan canon at a meeting of our parish to discuss various larger Anglican topics. Someone asked him about Anglican theology.

Anglicans have no theology of their own, he said. When they engage in theology, they do so as Trinitarian Christians for the larger body of Christ.

I no longer remember his exact words, but I have more or less digested them thus:

Anglicans should never claim to be "special" Christians; in fact, we are about the antithesis of that - we should be the least "special" Christians on the planet, with no confession of our own, but only what we share with all other faithfully Trinitarian churches, as we slowly move to dissolve that which we currently know as "Anglicanism" (that is, if we don't repent - though I am thinking that repentance is unlikely).

As Rowan Williams has said - Anglicans should also be prepared to give up "Anglicanism" at such a moment as it seems we've fulfilled our mission as via media. Or, I'd add: if it's clear that we have so debased our mission, that we are acting more as a force of division and corruption in the greater body of Christ.

Because then - to be faithful Anglicans with our generous ecumenism and concern for the wider body of Christ - it is our true mission to end, by whatever means God calls us, this wedge and corruption. And this may simply mean hoping that the things Anglicans have been traditionally associated with, which we value so much (like music, diversity, and scholarship), will be later taken up by another group of faithful Christians.

Lately, one hears more and more: "That's not Anglican." I.e., "Anglicanism" has become a rather odd bird of its own kind, very different from the churches which surround it. This is one of many signs which may eventually indicate that it's time for us to give up the game.

Of course, some of us see us as "agents of change" in the wider body of Christ. But this has never really been a part of what "we" are, as far as I understand our history. I'd say: it's more up to the "radical" Evangelicals to be such agents of change - breaking things as they go, making many mistakes - but also casting new light upon things, and offering things which are taken up for reception in other churches - eventually even Rome.

Lately, discussions have been so centered upon things other than Christ - that it is, I believe, clearer and clearer that we've dropped the ball, and need to admit as much.

Fr. Jonathan said...

Thanks for the link to my post. Your brief comments sum up well what I wasted all too many words trying to say. Many blessings to you.

Father Ron Smith said...

Unlike the Church of Rome, Anglicans have never claimed to be the 'One, True Church' but rather, part of the 'One, Holy, Cathlic and Apostolic Church', with Christ at the centre as the Only-Begotten Son of God, whom the Holy Spirit has revealed to us.

When parishioners of mine have asked my opinion about what they felt as their need to move to, for instance, the Roman Catholic or the Orthodox churches, I have told them to follow God's call - if that is where their heart lies - with my blessing. We have no right to claim sole proprietorship of the Gospel.

On the other hand, we need not be ashamed of the Gospel charisms we have received as part of the Universal Church.

Suem said...

One feature of Anglicanism is its breadth. Its creeds were formulated in such a way that allowed a divided nation to achieve some sort of harmony - which seems ironic at the moment. I cannot say that a hallmark of Anglicanism has ever been a strident or dictatorial approach to "what is true and what is not" though?

I am a lifelong Anglican, my father was an Anglican priest. But first and foremost I define myself as Christian long, long, long before I am an Anglican!

Anonymous said...

I must say that a hallmark of Anglicanism is not, and never has been, a strident or dictatorial approach to "what is true and what is not", nor does it have quite the focus on the bible that some more evangelical traditions do.

I am a lifelong Anglican, my father was an Anglican priest. But I am a Christian long, long before I am an Anglican! (Sue)

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem

(Your two posts may represent some trouble posting comments on Blogger at the moment?)

I am not sure which creeds you are referring to. The only creeds I know Anglicans to say are the three creeds of the universal church (Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian), save for the point of difference in the filioque clause where West and East differ re the Nicene Creed's wording.

Anonymous said...

"I cannot say that a hallmark of Anglicanism has ever been a strident or dictatorial approach to "what is true and what is not" though"?"

Suem should study the history of the 1660 Restoration and the ejection of 1,000 clergy from their livings, then the saga of the Non-Jurors in the following generation. and the subsequent treatment of nonconformists and Roman Catholics in Britian and Ireland, until the repeal of the Tests Act. "Anglicanism" was birthed in a *very strong sense of "what is true and what is not".


liturgy said...

A good post, Peter, and one that might be pressed further. Is Anglicanism a denomination? RCChurch & East Orthodox Church obviously do not see themselves as a denomination – one way of doing things equal amongst a variety of others. Anglicanism would have elements of such a self-understanding, as your post suggests. We do not ordain “Anglican” priests. The search for an “Anglican” way of doing things is (should be?) more a search for a/the Christian way…


Suem said...

Not so, Palaiologos, you are judging by the standards of today when we do not generally burn people at the stake for heresy (!) and not applying a proper understanding of the historical context – which was an extremely brutal age! Elizabeth 1 in the Act of Settlement, and in the very subtle modifications to the 1559 BCP, trod a very fine line which allowed those who wished to live peaceably to do so. She had to cope with efforts to integrate a traditionalist Counter Revolution comeback but abroad she needed to conciliate Catholic Spain and France. Identified with the Protestant cause through her birth and heritage, she nevertheless modified Cranmer’s language specifically around Eucharistic theology – for example people received “the body and blood”, salving the consciences of those with more Catholic sympathies, whilst they did so “in remembrance that he died for you” – allowing for a more Protestant understanding.
It is certainly true that Elizabeth 1 (and those who came after her) did relentlessly persecute sedition that found its roots in religious disaffection, and religious prejudice has been rife actually throughout human history. Nevertheless, Elizabeth’s concern was with sedition rather than heresy. Yes, Catholics were persecuted, but then Pius V had declared Elizabeth, “the pretended Queen of England and the servant of crime" to be a heretic, released all of her subjects from any allegiance to her, and excommunicated any who obeyed her orders! They were difficult, dangerous and bloody times for monarchs as well as for subjects – you cannot transpose a modern template upon them, you have to understand them for what they were and Anglicanism began, and has increasingly grown in its position as a via media between Roman Catholicism and the developing Reformed traditions. This is the breadth to which I referred. That breadth is sometimes seen as a bit of an Anglican fudge , but it is something I do value about the Church into which I was baptised and raised.

Anonymous said...

Suem, my post wasn't about Elizabeth I, it was about Anglican intolerance in the 17th and 18th centuries (and into the 19th as well) against Protestant Dissenters and Nonconformists.

The Mayflower Pilgrims left England in 1620 to escape the Church of England. 1,000 clergy were ejected from their livings in 1662, Baptists like John Bunyan were imprisoned in the 1680s. The Nonjurors lost their jobs. The Wesleys were refused churches to preach in. Jews, Catholics and Dissenters were refused admission or degrees from Oxford and Cambridge until 1830. Anglicans were in fact pretty dictatorial for a long time.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,

Were the situation solely about comparing the Elizabethan Settlement and today, I would note that there was a "Settlement", so todays "Unsettled situation" raises questions whether 'classical Anglicanism' is being deviated from, who has caused the unsettlement etc.

On Anglican dictatorialism re telling people what the truth is and is not, why not focus on my own lifetime when people from other denominations who were not confirmed were not welcome at communion, when we still tell non-episcopally ordained people that they must be episcopally ordained before they may preside over an Anglican eucharist, and in my own country, why it was the Anglicans inthe 1970s who refused to agree to a then Plan for Union among the mainline Protestant denominations.

The kind of tolerance and inclusion some Anglicans value today is a very, very recent phenomenon!

Suem said...

Hi Palaiologos,
I was talking about the inception of the tradition we call "Anglican" which had its roots in (given the constraints of the time) a certain allowance for freedom of conscience -a tradition I think well worth preserving. You are absolutely right that Anglicanism (along with many religions and denominations) has sadly been guilty of discrimination and intolerance in its history - but is that an argument for promoting intolerance now? I should rather have thought not.
Peter, the kind of tolerance and inclusion some people and societies value today is a very recent phenomenon as well! Even a few decades ago I knew people - Christian and non Christian - who thought that women should "know their place" or that it was quite acceptable to ridicule or despise and practise verbal and even physical aggression towards gay people; the abolition and condemnation of slavery is fairly recent in historical terms. I am not sure the "recentness" of any of these developments means they are unsound?

But my reference to the early days of Anglicanism was that the Act of Settlement allowed people with bitterly opposed views and practices to live with that difference - if they were prepared to do so. This is not a question of saying we are not bothered about what is "right and wrong" - I personally believe that when we cease to think upon that then we lose the ethical, moral part of ourselves that is essential to our humanity and our spirituality. I am more saying that in our deliberations on the rights and wrongs of issues and situation we should avoid a "strident and dictatorial" approach and respect differing conscience and belief.

You probably know that I have said before that I believe this is the only way forward. I have to say that arguing about "who has caused the unsettlement" is possibly counterproductive as there will be different interpretations of that and the issue is complex - revisiting old bitternesses doesn't generally help with peace and concord. It might be much better if we all admitted some responsibility for "causing unsettlement" and tried to listen to each other (without threats of relational consequences!) I actually think many churches at the grassroots do do this! - but those on the polar extremes have their axes to grind.

Suem said...

Peter, I'm a bit confused about you comment about non confirmed people not being welcomed at communion because I think this is the case in my church? The unconfirmed are told they are welcome to come up for a blessing. Obviously, you do this differently. Perhaps this just shows the way that we do indeed have different theological stances and practices in different places?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
I can see how the confusion arises!
Yes, what you say applies in your church.

In our church I understand that we have moved from:

You must be a confirmed Anglican or a person confirmed in another denomination and received into our church to receive; to:

You must be confirmed in our or another denomination to receive; to

You must be a baptised person to receive.

That's the end of the official position, but there are churches hereabouts which do not even specify the 'you must be baptised' bit!!

(I may be wrong about the second step; but we were certainly once a lot more exclusive than we now are).

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Suem,
I would be delighted if all Anglican commenters here and elsewhere shared your view that we should all admit responsibility for current "unsettlement."

However there are commenters who blame those leaving established/official Anglican churches for causing their schismatic actions. That is not at all helpful in attempting to undestand what is happening.

Suem said...

Undoubtedly, Peter, and there are those who wish to blame TEC completely. There are many who use unguarded language, and politics and vested interests creep into the whole thing. I do think many grassroots churches(both liberal and conservative - I am actually at a church with a fairly conservative view on sexuality myself BTW) do an excellent job in simply living out the gospel and coping with difference even though it isn't always easy.